When our kids were quite small I wrote a list of five Family values and we coloured it in and stuck it on the fridge. Five or six years later we’re adding a sixth and have decided to print it out this time (although I prefer the colouring ones). I’d like to think we’re just making explicit what we we’re already valuing but then again, maybe not.
I’m pretty happy with the first five – Be generous, be kind, be encouraging, be truthful and be loving. We chose them because they seem to capture so much of what Christian character should look like. Of course, we fervently pray that our kids will trust in Christ with their whole life for their whole life, that the love for him they have now will mature as they mature and take root in their lives. But even if they choose a different path, our hope is that these virtues would still prove to be a powerful shaping force in their lives, that they’ll remember that the aspiration to be this kind of people.
These values have proved useful for all of us, perhaps especially me, in discipline (or in my case self-discipline). When we fall short it’s usually because we’ve not been one of these five. Sibling arguments almost always fail on the kindness front and one or two of the others. We would talk to our kids and ask them whether they thought they were being kind or generous or encouraging and it would almost always be easy to grasp that no, in fact, they hadn’t been. Simply pointing this out and asking what they thought about it was usually enough to kick off a process of reconciliation, apology and forgiveness. Although I can’t say I always got to that moment before reaching peak frustration.
We’ve appreciated the positive vision for us as a family much better than the alternative ‘do not or be not’. We’re challenged to not just, not be unkind but instead to find ways of kindness; not just to avoid the cruel words which come so easily but to look for the encouraging ones that sometimes come a little slower. And five seemed a good number, we could remember them and not be overly daunted by the sheer number.
This year we decided to add, ‘Be Thankful’ to the list. I don’t think it’s because we think our kids are particularly ungrateful but we realise that despite being decidedly average in income for our respective nations we are overflowing in material blessings and that begins to feel like the natural order of things. The way the world should be. In other words we begin to take everything for granted. We begin to feel entitled. Entitled to the opportunities, the freedoms, the holidays, the resources, the choices, the activities, the experiences and we begin to see those things as the sum of life. Sweden and the UK, our adopted and native home, are extremely privileged and entitled places.
A posture of gratitude begins to chip away at this creeping, sneaky, intruding sense that arrives with every latest Gift and gadget and beds down a little more with every holiday and hobby. It’s not that we don’t want those things but instead to learn both how to hold them a little more lightly and to see them all as gifts. Life is a gift. Each day is a gift. Every single good thing that we have is a gift and gratitude humbles us, opens our eyes and helps us to see the giver of the gifts, whether it be a parent’s hard work or God’s gracious creativity.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.Colossians 2:6-7
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